Latin America and the Caribbean

Inter-American Development Bank magazine
July 1996

Guatemala: Keeping kids off the street

An innovative low-cost program aimed at keeping potential street children in Guatemala City's slums remain in their homes and schools received high marks from a recent study by the IDB's independent Evaluation Office.

A major reason for the program's success, says the study, is its focus on prevention rather than rehabilitating children who have already abandoned their homes.

Run by a nonprofit Guatemalan organization, CONANI, the program trains unemployed teenagers from Guatemala City's slums to volunteer to work with children in their own neighborhoods. The volunteers organize recreational activities, help children with their homework and report signs of child abuse. Some of them use street theater and compose songs to dramatize life on the streets.

Some 200 volunteers are now working with more than 25,000 disadvantaged children in the city's slums. According to a CONANI study, juvenile delinquency has dropped 30 percent in these neighborhoods and less parental abuse of children has been reported since the program began.

Although the volunteers are not paid, 80 percent stick with the program, which they credit with giving them new self-esteem, and a new direction in life.

"They see that there is more to life than they ever imagined," says Alicia Pfund, member of the IDB's Evaluation Office.

The program was funded with the help of a 1991 $6 million IDB-UNICEF grant to the five Central American countries and Panama.

UNICEF estimates that Guatemala's prevention program costs less than $11 per child per year, far less than the cost of keeping a delinquent youngster in an institution.

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